When talk turns to local dining, you may have heard something like this: “What about that steak place out on Loop 1604? I can’t say the name, but … you know, they bring the meat out to your table on swords.”
This is, of course, a Brazilian steakhouse or “churrascaria.” SA’s newest and best is Chama Gaúcha (pronounce it as it looks). Happily, this restaurant is showing some staying power, so we’d suggest you make an effort to learn its name. Then, head out there for dinner one night.
We enjoy Tuesdays. You will not find yourself sitting alone in a sea of deserted tables on this ho-hum weeknight. Chama Gaúcha will likely be hosting several large groups of the service-club nature, and plenty of smaller parties around the well-appointed dining area will provide a companionable buzz.
But — here is an important point — there will not be an annoying crush of other diners getting between your hungry self and Chama Gaúcha’s excellent salad bar.
A good salad bar is as hard to find in San Antonio as good Tex-Mex is to find in London. That is, a salad bar that offers quality cheese, not just cubes of Swiss and Cheddar; crisp greens that have been carefully screened for freshness; a good Caesar-style dressing, and imaginative, or at least expensive, options such as marinated artichoke hearts and fat, freshly cooked asparagus spears. Vegetarians can enjoy their meal here as much as carnivores, and pay less for it, as the salad bar as a stand-alone option is offered for a reduced price at lunch and dinner.
Non-vegetarians will also enjoy the shards of salty prosciutto and thin slices of hard salami. We chose the flavorful sun-dried tomatoes over the fresh slices recently, as the latter were pale, especially for this time of year. We also loaded up on shiny, garnet-red rounds of cooked beets and pickled, sliced
We’ll introduce the main attraction with a bit of history, centered around the glow of a campfire on the Pampas in southern Brazil. After a hard day driving cattle, gauchos tie up their horses and convene for the evening meal. The word for that campfire, or outdoor firepit, is “churrasco,” while the style of serving the grilled meat from skewers is “rodizio.”
At Chama Gaúcha, after you’ve finished with salad, you turn over a small tabletop placard, from red (stop the meat) to green (bring it on). Then, servers, some clad in gaucho pants tucked neatly into black leather boots, will head your way with almost dizzying speed.
Try a bite of everything. Our favorites have been the outside edges of the seared bottom sirloin, rib eye, the juicy chicken breast, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, and always one of the little herb-flecked sausages.
As a salt lover, I approve of the seared, salty flavor that imbues the outer limits of the meat, and generally go for at least one small slice of this before heading into more rare territory. The lamb chops, for tenderness and flavor, are standouts, so save a corner of your plate for one. The leg of lamb will be ultra-rare, as it should be, with stronger flavor and a chewier bite.
The wine list, while covering a good bit of world geography, does offer some South America choices. We’d suggest a malbec, the rustic, meat-loving red that’s become a favorite from Argentina.
Side dishes are brought to the table as a matter of course, but we’ve found them forgettable. On one visit, though, the lightly fried pieces of polenta were quite good. The potatoes were just average, and fried bananas are more soggy than caramelized.
If you are a dessert lover, though, the choices rote, with one exception: the Papaya Cream. Order it. Share it with the table, even if no one has expressed an interest in dessert. It’s that good. Be sure to ask for an extra drizzle of crème de cassis on top, and be sure there are enough spoons.
We’ve enjoyed good service, polite greetings as we arrive, pleasant “thank-yous” as we leave Chama Gaúcha on all of our visits. And I’ll offer just a few more words of advice: Go hungry, my friends.
The Bar Tab
Chama Gaúcha Brazilian Steakhouse
18138 Sonterra Pl.
the SKINNY Searing hot meat and lots of it, served in fine-dining surroundings with a touch of romance
DON’t MISS The eye-popping salad bar that invites you to come back, and back. Did we mention the meat …?
HOURS Lunch: 11am-2pm Tue-Fri
Dinner: 5-10pm Mon-Thu, 5-10:30pm Fri, 4:30-10:30pm Sat, 1-8pm Sun